The Critic's Corner
March 11-17, 2019
By David Laprad
‘Greta’ arguably bad
Most suspense thrillers cook on low boil for a while before turning up the heat. This keeps viewers wondering when the axe is going to drop.
‘Greta’ doesn’t have time to ratchet up slowly, as its story must go to absurd lengths before the end of its 90-minute run. So, it gets right down to business, with the big reveal coming about 15 minutes into the film.
Written and directed by Neil Jordan (‘The Crying Game’) and starring renowned French actress Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz (‘500 Days of Summer’), ‘Greta’ proceeds with remarkable efficiency from the first frame.
The film opens with a young lady named Francis (Moretz) finding a purse on a New York City subway. Looking inside, she finds a wad of money and an ID with the name and address of the owner – Greta (Huppert).
Jordan establishes Francis as a moral character when she slaps away her handsy roommate as she reaches for the cash. Francis is working as a waitress following the untimely death of her mother, so she could use the money, but it’s her nature to return the purse rather than pilfer its contents.
What’s that they say about no good deed?
When Francis arrives at the address on the ID, an older, charmingly bumbling French woman opens the door, thanks her profusely and invites her in for tea. Francis accepts and steps naively into the apartment, which is tucked into a tiny nook away from pedestrians and traffic.
In less time than it took me to compose this much of my review, Jordan tells us everything we need to know about these characters, establishes Francis as a potential victim with a wound to exploit (her grief over her mother’s death) and gives us the lay of the land.
Then comes my favorite moment in the movie: when Jordan sets off the truth bomb.
In many thrillers, there’s a moment when the victim suddenly realizes the truth about the antagonist. This epiphany is usually accompanied by a loud boom, ostensibly to clue in viewers who missed the point.
That moment comes very early in ‘Greta’ when Francis opens a cabinet in Greta’s apartment to retrieve some candles for dinner and sees several purses identical to the one she found on the subway.
I should have known it was coming, but it was early in the film and things had been quiet as Francis and Greta formed a quick friendship, so the truth bomb caught me off guard and I jumped.
However, from that moment on, I was ready for anything. So were Huppert and Moretz, who played along as Jordan took the action to ludicrous extremes.
It would be easy to argue that ‘Greta’ is a bad movie. It’s riddled with plot holes and Jordan seems to make a sport out of stretching its credibility beyond the breaking point. Certainly, all the principals in front of and behind the camera are above the material.
But I liked the way Jordan, Huppert and Moretz brought their A game to this B-grade movie.
Jordan understands the genre in which he’s working and often sets up the audience to anticipate one thing and then delivers something else. I wouldn’t call his work on ‘Greta’ subversive, as the film is too pulpy to be considered a work of art, but these unexpected deviations helped to hold my interest in the film.
Also, Jordan shoots ‘Greta’ like he’s vying for an Oscar. There’s a breathtaking first-person shot of Francis rushing toward Greta in the restaurant where she works that suggests she’s reached a point of empowerment; later, as Greta plasters over the bullet holes in the wall that hides the secret room in which she’s incarcerated Francis, Jordan shows Francis disappearing into darkness as the tiny shafts of light that illuminate her space disappear one by one.
That said, the highlight of ‘Greta’ is the terrific work of the lead actresses. I’ve never seen Huppert in a film (that I recall), but she’s a captivating presence and perfect as the title character.
Huppert has a way of letting her emotions simmer just under her skin and behind her eyes and then letting them burst out at the right moment.
Her performance is nicely nuanced as well. As I sit here typing, I can see her smiling beautifully as she greets Francis at the park, transforming into a monster as she angrily barks Hungarian at Francis in the restaurant and dancing madly in her apartment.
Moretz is just as good, though her role as victim gives her a more limited palette with which to work.
‘Greta’ seems to end as quickly as it begins. But that works in the film’s favor, as viewers don’t have enough time to tire of its folly.
Instead, even those with discerning taste will likely find something to latch onto for its brief run, whether it’s the work of two world-class actresses, Jordan’s visually engaging direction or the sheer insanity of the whole enterprise.
See it later. R-rated for violence and disturbing images.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.